Five graphs that explain the Asian American electorate

Asian Americans make up just 4% of the US electorate. Their influence is set to grow, however – and the Republican party ought to take note

October 26, 2016 7:15 AM (UTC+8)
The world may be scratching its head at this year's US presidential race but Asian American voters have chosen a clear side. Photo: Reuters
The world may be scratching its head at this year's US presidential race but Asian American voters have chosen a clear side. Photo: Reuters

Any understanding of Asian Americans as a coherent demographic entity owes more to convenience than anything else: as the pie chart below shows, they make up anything but a homogenous group. Equally, it would be unwise to suggest that they are in a position to sway the outcome of next month’s elections. What’s clear, however, is that their electoral influence is a growing one.

Despite making up only a small slice (5.6%) of the US population as a whole, and just 4% of the electorate, according to Pew Research, the Asian American “community” is growing faster than any other ethnic group in the country.

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The table on the left, above, shows that the Asian population is clustered in a few states, and it’s interesting to note that several of these states – Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania – are on Politico’s list of swing states.

Also interesting is that, according to The Atlantic, the number of Asian Americans registered to vote statewide in North Carolina increased by 130% between 2006 and the last mid-terms, in 2014. The same publication reports that North Carolina’s Asian population grew a whopping 85% between 2000 and 2010, Virginia’s by 70%.

That growth is not replicated everywhere. However, long-term projections indicate the electoral impact of Asian-Americans will only rise. As the table below shows, immigration from Asia is rapidly overtaking immigration from Latin America as the largest source of new arrivals in the US.

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As to their voting intentions, until the mid-1990s Asian Americans tended to lean rightwards. The San Francisco Chronicle offers a pretty good explanation of why this was so – and also why it is no longer the case.

In brief, from the 1960s onwards, the immigration system favored professional Asians, “an educated class of immigrants [who] occupied higher-salaried positions in US business, medicine, engineering and information technology.

“Additionally, many Asian immigrants of this generation — namely those from Taiwan and Vietnam — were staunchly anticommunist and gladly put down roots in the United States. Class backgrounds and ideological views informed their support of the mainstream Republican agenda.”


As the table above shows, these loyalties have waned. The Chronicle report states: “Asian Americans are increasingly moving left, thanks to the Obama coalition and a new generation of native-born Asian Americans whose positions on immigration, science and religion align more with the Democratic Party’s. Another factor influencing this liberal tilt is the significant portion of Asian Americans living near the poverty line, particularly Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders.”

The final table, above, indicates very low support among all Asian American constituencies for Donald Trump in this year’s presidential election.

A strong enough vote for the Republican candidate among the majority white population could still prevent Hillary Clinton from gaining the White House. However, the evidence outlined here suggests Asian American votes have never counted more – and that over the longer term a Republican party that wants to win will have to recognise that.

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